The birth of Russia out of the rubble of the old Soviet Union has witnessed tremendous changes in the economic lives of its people. Nikolai Niktin, an 82 year-old pensioner has a $170 a month pension nd his nephew earns $635 a month which forces them to scramble to survive in a modern state in which there are millionaires and poor people. Nikolai has a small house in Barvikha, a dacha community in which some will purchase $320,000 cars and live a luxurious life of conspicuous consumption. Nikolai can observe his neighbors, but “they do not speak to us, they do not greet us.” He is simply one of those millions of poor people who do the dirty work and go unobserved by those with wealth. It could almost be a scene in some 19th century Dickens novel about the two worlds of Victorian splendor and the misery of the masses.
According to Fortune magazine, the top 100 Russian wealthy people have a combined fortune of $522 billion which represents one-third of the Russian economy. The nation’s average income stands at $686. A difficulty in determining wealth in Russia is the factor that many people are paid under the table to avoid taxes. Some figures suggest the richest 10% of people earned 31% of the overall income reported in Russia while the top 20% earned 47.8% of income. Most of Russia’s wealth is most probably located in Moscow and income levels in rural areas is a fraction of that found in Moscow.
Russian sociologists indicate about 22% of the population could fall into the middle class if income alone was considered, but if education and self awareness of who is in the middle class was factored into the equation only about 7% would be classified as middle class.
The tight fisted Putin regime has allowed those with wealth to flourish, and, of course, the wealthy know it is best to stay out of politics if they wish to remain wealthy. A major problem in Russia is the flat tax system which means a millionaire pays at the same rate as someone who is in poverty.
The real question is whether the Russian people will continue putting up with a society in which most live in poverty or close to it while a minority has access to unlimited wealth.
Throughout the world the price of food continues to rise as farmers devote a good portion of their fields of plenty to produce more plentiful supplies of ethanol to keep our cars moving. A reporter for Der Spiegel visited the deserted prison of Ft. Dimanche in Haiti where thousands now scrounge amidst the debris of what used to be home for those being tortured by the notorious saidistc dictator, “Baby Doc” Duvalier. People dig through piles of garbage in hope of a mouthful of food while women prepare something that looks like biscuits but is really made from clay, which combined with some salt and a piece of lettuce, becomes the day’s main food. The clay to make a hundred biscuits is $5 which is nearly twice what it cost a year ago.
The shortage of food is ever increasing all over the world and people nearing starvation have nothing to lose but their lives which are lost already. Thousands have marched in Port-au-Prince demanding food and receiving promises. The price of wheat, corn, and rice which are basic staples of diets in Africa, southeast Asia and the Middle East are rising with no end in sight. George Bush has no concern about global warming but its effect is already seen in loss of agricultural land. An unforseen factor in forecasts about the future of food was failure to reckon with the alteration in diet of Asians and Africans as they become more affluent. They shift away from traditonal rice to wheat and corn products causing prices to rise.
The media is filled with stories about the “financial crisis” but what happens if all hope is gone from hundreds of millions of people? If we are concerned about terrorism today, what awaits us in the future when poverty has wrecked the lives of untold millions?
Despite compulsory education laws in Indonesia, latest figures indictae a high percentge of children still are not attending schools, particularly at the secondary level in many parts of the nation. In a recent survey of the country’s 440 regencies and municipalities, almsot half of children between the ages of 13 and 15 were being denied the benefits of a secondary education. Poverty is an important factor but attitudes of parents regarding further education also play a role in fostering non-attendance at schools. Unfortunately, while Indonesia passes laws compelling children to be in school, they do not provide free education, let alone free textbooks and materials for those going.
So many nations which suffer from poverty are unable to provide funding for poor children to attend school. One is left to wonder how nations of the world will spend trillions on the military and be unable to spend a few billion to further the well-being of children.
President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa angrily denied claims the rate of poverty in his nation was on the rise. He blasted forces that oppose the democratic revolution which overthrew apartheid as the source of such claims since they are attempting to subvert the success of black rule. “This time,” he said, the source of the canard was the South African Institute of Race Relations which made the startling claim that the masses of poor people are now poorer than they were in 1996.” However, the South African Institute of Race Relations(SAIRR) stood by its report which indicates significant growth in the percentage of people falling below the poverty line. It noted the number of people living below a $1 a day wage had risen from 1.9 million in 1996 to 4.2 million in 2006. The Institute report agreed with Mbeki that overall income had been on the rise but a disproportionate amount of that went to people at the upper levels of income.
The South African situation is not that much different than in America where over the past few years, poor people and those at the bottom level of the middle class have fallen behind while those in upper levels are garnering a much higher proportion of the overall societal wealth.